Although it’s already a formidable business hub, Mriehel’s industrial zone is not exactly the most popular choice for eateries that offer something beyond your typical snack bar. But its potential, says Silvana Callus Mizzi, owner and chef at the recently-opened Levantina Bistro Bakehouse, is clear for all to see. “A few years down the line, Mriehel will be the main business district of Malta. Setting up shop here was certainly a risk, but I do see it paying off. I envisage that the future will bring along more projects which feature more upmarket restaurants. I doubt Levantina will be alone for long!”
Indeed, drawn by its central location within a bustling business zone, on an island that’s increasingly plagued by congested roads and parking hassles, Mrs Callus Mizzi explained that the idea behind the bistro and bakehouse, upon opening its doors last August, was to offer “a slice of tranquillity in an otherwise chaotic environment.” In contrast with other eateries in the area, “Levantina offers an option that’s a little more upmarket, where business owners and their employees who work nearby can come to relax during their lunch break.”
Starting her career in finance before making a U-turn into catering, following the 2007 financial crisis and an accompanying sense of disillusionment, Mrs Callus Mizzi returned from her studies abroad with a yearning to share the food she loves with her customers. Thus came Levantina. “The name refers to ‘levant’”, she explains, referencing eastern Mediterranean cuisine from countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Despite these influences however, Mrs Callus Mizzi pointed out that Levantina is not a Middle Eastern restaurant in the traditional sense of the word. “We’re Middle Eastern-inspired. There’s a difference – we’re taking inspiration from the ingredients of the Middle East. We do present dishes which are not Middle Eastern in nature, but try to include ingredients, and make our own blend of spices which are Middle Eastern.”
Mrs Callus Mizzi believes her emphasis on quality will appeal to business people looking for a good option for lunch in the area – an option that goes beyond your typical sandwich or wrap. Customers who are looking to have a business meeting with a client over lunch may not necessarily want a sandwich or a wrap, but would prefer an offering of a selection of mezzes to start with, followed by a beef tagliata, salmon with tahini, or a lamb tagine. Located bang in the centre of this business hub, Levantina makes for a great spot for business lunches – an opportunity which Silvana is providing for.
Having a restaurant that offers a business lunch option within a comfortable bistro setting in Mriehel eliminates the need to leave the industrial town to go to St Julian’s or Valletta, wasting precious time in traffic. Still, eating in isn’t the only option Levantina presents, as the chef patron explains her newest dining concept: pop-up canteens. “What we’re offering is a canteen service which will come to you within specific hours. Between 10am and 2pm, for example, the Levantina team will set up a pop-up canteen within an area of the office, and after lunch, it’s all cleared away as if we were never there. This is something that may benefit companies that employ more than 100 people but may still not have enough employees to justify a full, operational canteen.”
The pop-up canteen concept offers minimal disruption to the office, and takes away the hassle of having to set up a kitchen, with all the equipment and staff that that involves. “What we’re offering is an alternative to a fully-operational canteen,” Mrs Callus Mizzi said, as she explained a typical menu. “Apart from a bread selection, a pop-up canteen menu includes an array of salads which are a little different from what you’d otherwise find on the market, including vegetarian and vegan options, our Middle Eastern-inspired pies, hot items like a mini tagine or soup of the day, finished off with a selection of pastries.”
And while this all might seem like a lot, Levantina’s owner has other plans for expansion in the coming years. “There’s still so much I’d like to do with Levantina, but this boils down to personnel - which is very scarce – and my biggest daily challenge,” she says, as she refers to the business’ catering and pastry section. Despite these challenges, under Mrs Callus Mizzi’s wing, the future for this bistro and bakehouse certainly seems bright.
This article originally appeared in The Business Observer